Some Kids Need Sports More

15 Nov

Full disclosure – we live in a fairly solidly upper middle class part of the Atlanta suburbs.  There are definitely people in need our community, but they are less visible than they might be in other parts of the area or country.

One of the boys I coached this fall has been a tough case.  He’s frequently been absent from practices or matches, and has been late to several practices.  He doesn’t have the best attention span.  This is also the first time he’s been on a sports team or played soccer, so there’s been a lot he’s had to learn.  He can also take a standpoint of blaming others, or claiming someone is cheating when the game doesn’t go his way.

But throughout the season, I’ve sensed he is definitely trying in practice – and he makes a good effort in games as well.  He just needs some extra help in understanding the instructions and staying on task.

I don’t know him away from the field, and I don’t know his parents away from brief interactions with them before and after team functions.  But I felt like getting to play, and being included in a group really meant something to him.

I get the sense in our area that a lot of families have their kids in sports because it’s just what people do.  They put their kids in sports because they want them to be good at sports for the social position it affords the child and the parents.  But for a part of the population in the US, and more so in underdeveloped parts of the world – sports are their release from reality for a short period of time.

At our team party, the player’s mother told me that the season has been great for him and it’s been significant to see her son have something that he enjoys.

I’ve struggled with the question of, “Why do I coach?” throughout this season and last spring with the older kids team.  And this conversation was the most compelling reason I’ve received so far.

I’m really hoping my efforts over the winter to initiate pick-up soccer games in our county draws in families and kids from beyond just the mainstream of our county and into the immigrant communities that aren’t visible in our soccer club or the county’s sports programs.  It could be a significant bridge to these kids.


2 Responses to “Some Kids Need Sports More”

  1. John November 16, 2011 at 1:20 am #

    Great points. Our son is a child who absolutely needs sports. He is very athletic and self-driven on the field wether it is baseball, which is his true love, or soccer which he is just very good at. He will work for hours on either sport, and I know it is his “happy place”. He has always been this way. We see a direct correlation between the amount of sports time he gets in and his performance at school as well as his behavior at home. When a season ends and we take a week or two off, I believe he actually enters his own version of a state of depression. When we had all star baseball this summer and he was playing 4-5 days a week, he was the perfect child. When it ended though, he started forgetting his normal routine and completely lost focus on the rest of his world.

    I do believe that many children play sports just to please there parents and I have seen it in kids I coach. It is very frustrating to see a kid in this situation, because they never find the same enjoyment as the kids that are playing for the love of the sport. I love your ideas of pickup games and I think if you can succeed in getting varying demographics to show up, the result will be a greater level of play in everyone and a new love for the sport in those that may have lost sight of why they are playing.

    As far as the question “why do I coach?”, I often ask this of myself and others who coach my children. I have actually removed myself from being a head coach of my sons baseball team because I felt I work better one on one with players than with a whole team and that I serve the team better this way.

    I witnessed something this fall that speaks to the importance of your question. I have helped coach my daughter’s soccer team for several years and have been fortunate that she had head coaches that truly loved the sport, loved teaching and were there the RIGHT reasons. This fall we moved to a new league and landed on a team with a whole new group of girls and a coach we had never met. From the first practice there were issues with motivation and problems with focus. As the season progressed it got more frustrating as I realized that the coach was there for his own reasons and not for the benefit of the girls. His own daughter played on the team and was a constant distraction and many times would just refuse to play or would lash out at her father, both verbally and physically. This often caused the practice to come to a complete stop. In several games he had his back to the field of play trying to manage his daughter’s behavior. I gently asked to help out at the beginning of the season and was turned down as he said he intentionally didn’t want any assistance. He wanted the girls to learn to listen to him. What I came to realize is that it gave him a position of power over his own daughter that he didn’t have anywhere but on the field. It appears that he chose to coach to gain footing in his personal life and in my opinion it was at the cost of development of the other girls on the team.

    I hope that not only coaches, but also parents ask themselves who they are there for on a regular basis. Your constant questioning of why you coach, says that you are there for the right reason and you have focus on what is important… the development of the children. The life lessons that come from sports are far to important to be left to someone who is coaching for the wrong reasons.

    • Dennis Murray November 16, 2011 at 2:36 am #

      Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s great that he enjoys Baseball so much – hopefully you can find ways to help him enjoy the sport in the off-season and stay engaged with it. Otherwise, perhaps finding another sport (or general athletic training) might be enough to keep him on track with the remainder of his life.

      The dynamics of the parent-coach and their own child is difficult. Up front, the parent needs to be ready to treat their own child equally with the rest of the team and the child needs to be ready to accept that treatment (for good and bad on both ends). If that means sending their child out of practice, that’s the way it has to be. But I also wonder in that situation if the child has lost interest in the sport at somewhere along the way.

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